WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Democratic Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas smashed the Republican lock on the White House yesterday, opening the door to a new generation of national leadership.
President Bush fell victim to deep-seated voter anger over the economy, becoming the seventh president in history to lose a re-election race. With final returns still to be counted, Mr. Bush appeared headed for the worst defeat in the popular vote for any incumbent president since 1912.
The man who did more than anyone else to stoke the anti-politician fires this year, Ross Perot, finished third. But his share of the popular vote was projected to be larger than that of any independent challenger in 68 years, raising the hopes of his followers that he would remain a force in national politics.
In an election that had the look and feel of a historic turning point, the all-Southern, all-baby-boomer ticket of Mr. Clinton and Tennessee Sen. Al Gore rolled up an electoral vote landslide that ended 12 years of Republican presidencies.
The breadth of Mr. Clinton's victory will strengthen his claim to a clear mandate from the voters, even though he fell short of a majority in the popular vote.
With the legislative and executive branches under Democratic control, the president-elect and his party will face enormous pressure to prove that the gridlock of the past few years has come to an end.
"The American people have voted to make a new beginning," Mr. Clinton told a crowd of cheering supporters early today in Little Rock, Ark.
He termed his victory a "clarion call . . . to restore growth to our country" and "face problems too long ignored, from AIDS to the environment to the conversion of our economy from a defense to a domestic economic giant."
Mr. Gore, whom the president-elect greeted with a bear hug, described himself and Mr. Clinton as "the children of modern America." He said the first-ever election of an all-Southern ticket marked a symbolic end to a century and a half of sectional strife.
"We are one country now," the Tennessee senator said.
The election-night celebration in Mr. Clinton's hometown might have been the largest, drawing a crowd estimated at 40,000, but victory-starved Democrats across the country cheered the end of their party's long losing streak. Car horns blared in the downtown streets of the nation's capital, the most fiercely Democratic jurisdiction in the country, well into the wee hours of this morning.
Victories by female candidates in key Senate and House races underscored the theme of change in yesterday's voting, as the Democrats easily maintained their majorities in both houses of Congress.
The much-ballyhooed "Year of the Woman" in politics became a reality as at least five women won seats in the Senate. Maryland Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski easily won re-election, while in Illinois, Carol Moseley Braun became the first black woman elected to the Senate.
In Colorado, Democratic Rep. Ben Nighthorse Campbell became the first American Indian elected to the Senate.
The anti-incumbent wave that many had predicted failed to materialize as a number of threatened senators survived re-election challenges. Among the winners were Ohio Democrat John Glenn, South Carolina Democrat Ernest F. Hollings and Arizona Republican John McCain.
At least three incumbents fell: appointed Republican Sen. John Seymour in California, Democrat Terry Sanford in North Carolina and Republican Bob Kasten in Wisconsin.
New York Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato and Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood, both Republicans, were in cliffhanger re-election fights, while Georgia Democrat Wyche Fowler Jr. faced a possible runoff to hold his seat.
The Democrats appeared to have widened their 57-43 Senate majority by at least one seat, with a gain of three seats possible. Exact figures on the number of seats that changed hands in the House were not expected to be available until today , but early estimates were that the Republicans would pick up close to 20 seats, still leaving Democrats with at least a 65-seat majority.
Although Mr. Clinton's triumph was apparent early in the evening and the television networks declared him the victor about 10:50 p.m., he and Mr. Bush waited until after the polls closed in California at 11 p.m. (EST) to declare victory or defeat. It was early today on the East Coast before Mr. Clinton finally appeared outside white-columned old Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., to claim the victory he had dreamed about since his teens, when he shook the hand of President John F. Kennedy.
Speaking from the same place he had launched his candidacy exactly 13 months earlier, Mr. Clinton was joined by his wife, Hillary, and daughter, Chelsea. Loudspeakers blared out the beat of Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow," the Clinton campaign theme song.
"My fellow Americans, on this day, with high hopes and brave hearts, in massive numbers the American people have voted to make a new beginning," he said in a 15-minute victory speech beamed around the world by television.
Mr. Clinton praised Mr. Bush, the man he unseated, for "his lifetime of public service" and appealed for Bush and Perot voters to join him in creating "a reunited states."
More than an hour earlier, Mr. Bush had called for unity in a brief concession speech that omitted any mention of Mr. Perot.
"America must always come first, so we will get behind this new president and wish him well," Mr. Bush said to supporters in Houston shortly after phoning Mr. Clinton to offer his congratulations.
In Indianapolis, Vice President Dan Quayle, sounding more presidential than Mr. Bush in his concession speech, praised Mr. Clinton for a well-run campaign. While his supporters chanted "Ninety-six" in anticipation of a Quayle bid for the GOP nomination in four years, the often maligned conservative said, "I have always stood up for what I believe, and I will continue to stand up for what I believe."
Mr. Perot publicly congratulated Mr. Clinton on his victory before the polls had closed on the West Coast and before he had been formally declared the winner by national news organizations. The Texas billionaire promised to keep his political organization intact, though he urged his backers to work with the new administration.
"Is this the end or is this just the beginning?" the Texas billionaire asked supporters in an exuberant concession statement. "We will stay together, and you will be a force for good for our country and our children."
Turnout was heavy across the nation, reversing a 30-year decline in voter participation. Early estimates were that 55 percent of those eligible to vote had cast ballots, up from 51 percent in 1988 and roughly equaling the turnout level of 1972.
Mr. Clinton won among virtually all major voter groups, including suburbanites, who were expected to cast the largest single bloc votes nationwide. He won a majority among the youngest voters, ages 18 to 24, and the oldest, those over age 60. He won among women, by a wide margin, and also finished first with men, largely because Mr. Perot took away much of Mr. Bush's previous male support, the exit polls indicated.
He beat Mr. Bush among white voters, 42 percent to 39 percent, becoming the first Democrat in almost 30 years to carry the white vote. In 1988, by contrast, Mr. Bush defeated Democratic nominee Michael S. Dukakis by a 58-41 margin among whites.
Mr. Clinton also took almost two-thirds of the Hispanic vote and more than 90 percent of the black vote, according to exit polls.
Mr. Clinton took the Midwest battleground states of Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri, as well as a number of major states that have been reliably Republican in recent presidential elections, including New Jersey, Georgia, Vermont, Maine and Connecticut. He ran strongly in the Northeast and on the West Coast, winning the biggest electoral-vote prize, California, which has only gone Democratic once since 1948.
The victor cut heavily into Republican strength in the South and Rocky Mountain West by capturing Tennessee, his home state of Arkansas, Louisiana, Colorado, Montana and New Mexico.
Mr. Bush held on in the Republican strongholds of Indiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, Utah and South Carolina, although his victory margins were down sharply from those of four years ago.
Mr. Perot drew about equally from the two major party candidates in the overall popular vote, early exit polls suggested, but he may have been a factor in tipping a number of states away from Mr. Bush and toward Mr. Clinton.
Network television surveys of voters as they left their polling places showed widespread unhappiness over the state of the economy and what they considered Mr. Bush's failure to do enough to set it right. Four of every five voters gave the economy a negative rating, and two out of three disapproved of Mr. Bush's handling of it.
Mr. Bush's efforts to raise fears about Mr. Clinton failed to overcome pocketbook concerns in the minds of voters. On the question of honesty, which the president tried to make a focus of the campaign, more voters (69 percent) thought Mr. Bush lied about his role in the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran than thought Mr. Clinton had lied about his efforts to avoid the draft (50 percent).
Despite the controversy over his draft record, 46 percent of veterans supported Mr. Clinton, compared to 35 percent for Mr. Bush and 19 percent for Mr. Perot.